Ode to the Lonely Flip-Flop

Ode to the Lonely Flip-Flop

20170113_123932We drive under a telephone line that is completely booked by a row of fat pigeons all squinting in unison in the direction of the orange sherbert glow of morning sun.  “Look,” I say out loud in spite of what the rest of the passengers in the vehicle think. “Dawn Patrol.” From what I gather, these greasy little sky-rats  are here every morning, holding a meeting on the same wire.They remind me of their slacker seagull cousins who squat together on the beach, and all face the same direction waiting for that perfect wind, like surfers who wait for that perfect wave. These guys remind me of a story that I started a few years ago. It’s nowhere near finished, but I need to get back to it soon.

My son in the back seat watches the world float by his window while quietly grazing on dry breakfast cereal. We are on our way to pick up his cousin and drop him off at daycare. En route, we notice a child’s flip-flop in the middle of the road. Actually, it would be more accurate to say we noticed the child’s flip-flop because it’s been there for two days. It doesn’t look abused or broken in any way, just abandoned. Forgotten.

I could smell the slightest whiff of a poem about an abandoned shoe as an allegory about society in general gently rolling in like that perfect breeze meant for seagulls. The beginning of a random metaphor started to form in my head that I planned to use at a later date, when I hear, “I wonder why you only ever see one shoe in the road,” my son’s mother said. “It’s never a pair of shoes, it’s only one. I wonder why that is?”

I can feel the Train of Thought pull away from the station. I had to seriously contemplate when was the last time I saw a pair of shoes abandoned and discarded in a place they weren’t supposed to be. I have never seen a pair of Keds on the ground as if they were some victim of some heinous violation cast aside and left to rot in the gutter. I thought about it longer than I would have liked to. It kind of bothered me, truth be told. Because, not only was it another unknown that might be worth at least a few minutes of research for… I dunno… in case I get swept up in bar trivia at the local Chili’s, but counting this scenario, along with the birds taking in a sunrise, and the cereal munching munchkin in the back seat (whom I’ll come back to in a minute), it now looks like I have a few more ideas to build stories around. The last thing I need right now is to add to my growing list of works in progress.

I mean, is there an epidemic of singular shoes dotting the landscape? Do other people notice this? Does the lost shoe feel a sense of detachment and ennui because its favorite sock got eaten by a dryer and now feels lost without it? Is feral footwear common? What about other articles of clothing? How do they feel about it? How often do they get cast aside?

These things are the sugar in my coffee. These are the things that give me a warm fuzziness in my belly because it feels like my obsessive nature has finally been directed into a more positive, and less destructive path. Over the past few years, I have turned into a storytelling savant. I’m constantly asking “what would happen if..?” and among other things, I try very hard to not use zombies as a McGuffin because I ran out of ideas. “At long last, Frank and Carol could now share that kiss in the happy home of their dreams. But they couldn’t because zombies. The end.

Every week, I eagerly await another Chuck Wendig Flash Fiction challenge. Sometimes I play, sometimes I feel a little too out of shape. Other times I collect story prompts like seashells, and of course, there are those moments when something that can’t be easily explained comes charging into my personal space, like say, figuring out why one shoe ends up in the road and not the pair. Instead of defaulting to logic and reason to explain it (which is really boring and smells an awful lot like bullshit), I prefer instead to faceplant directly into the blueberry pie of “Just Make Shit Up” (which might be tedious to the listener, but dagnabbit, it’s not my fault that you ask the most random crap and expect something extremely insightful and intellegent to roll off my tongue.You ask a rhetorical question, you get a left field answer. Deal with it.). I mean, I’m a storyteller. Storytellers…tell stories. How else do you think this works?

I can’t take on other projects. Not right now. My current first draft is nearly complete, and I’ll jump into revising the beast over the course of the next few days. I have several other half started projects right behind this one that need to be finished. These projects are moving slower than I’d like because writing is only taking up a little of my day. When I’m not writing, I’m taking my son to therapy (details, and perhaps the whole point of this post below), and when I’m not doing that, I’m taking care of the family. Which is why it may be dangerous to draw my attention to something that will cater to my obsessiveness like a lonely shoe.

As a Crime Action Drama

Mr. Deveraux could not stop his limbs and extremities from twitching, while Mrs. Deveraux remained the stronger of the two, and opted instead to chew off the skin around her cuticles. Their home has always been a peaceful sanctuary, they’ve fussed over it for years to get it to that point. But this morning was almost too much to process. Melinda had been missing for a little over twelve hours. Since that time, almost an entire squadron of police officers had taken up residence in their once pristine stainless steel kitchen with laptops and various pieces of tracking equipment that they’ve never heard of, and they weren’t entirely sure, but it looked like there were a couple of FBI agents huddled closely in the hallway talking about something, looking grim.

The Lead Investigator’s voice was soothing, almost hypnotic. “We are all going to get through this,” he said. “We are going to get your daughter back. I have called in our finest to track these guys down. Also, once word got out that it might be the Oaxaca cartel, the FBI became very interested. Whoever did this is going to have a very bad day, understand?” Melinda’s parents do their best to acknowledge. “Good, now when that phone rings, I’m gonna need you to remain calm, and act normal.” Mrs. Deveraux laughs an empty laugh, because her normal felt like it has been trodden under by so many police issued boots in her garden full of mums.

When the phone finally did ring, it was as if everyone started breathing again in unison. As if they were allowed. A technician punched in a code into his laptop, and gave a signal to the Lead Investigator. The Lead Investigator donned his headphones, and gave the cue for Mr. Deveraux to lift up the receiver.

“Hello?” The tremble in his voice choked back hard.
“Do you have the money?” The voice at the other end was computer generated. The expressions on the cops faces let the Deveraux’s know that they were dealing with professionals.
“Do you have my daughter?” Mr. Deveraux sneered, “Is she still alive, you son of a bitch?”

The next voice wasn’t computer generated. It was the sound of Melinda, scared, hopeless, weeping, but very much still alive. Mrs. Deveraux clasped her hands over her mouth to stifle whatever might be pushed out of it.

“You have such a pretty child, Mr. Deveraux,” the emotionless voice continued. “Her eyes are quite captivating. It would be such a shame if she were missing one.”
“You bastard!” Mr. Deveraux bellowed. “If one hair is out of place on her head, I swear to God I will…”
“Do you have my money or not, Mr. Deveraux?”

The Lead Investigator nodded silently to Mr. Deveraux. “Yes,” he said. “Yes, I have your money.”
“Excellent,” the voice replied. “Now, listen very carefully, this is what I need you to do next. I need you to grab an article of clothing that belongs to Melinda.” The Lead Investigator snapped his fingers at a cadet to whisper something in his ear. When he was finished, the cadet ran upstairs to her room. “I need you to take that piece of clothing and drop it on the corner of 5th and Elm. Walk across the street and when a brown Oldsmobile parks in front of you, get in the back seat.”

The cadet reappears holding a tiny, pink flip-flop. The Lead Investigator holds it up for Mr. Deveraux to see. “I’ll be using one of her flip-flops, will that do?”
“That will suffice,” the voice said.
“Will my daughter be in the car? Where are you taking me?”
“Be ready at 10:30. Bring the money.” The line went dead.

As A Middle-Grade Fantasy Novel

It rained the night before, and when the kids were waiting for the bus the next morning, none of them seemed too worried that the sun  was hidden by the clouds. The lack of sunshine made everything look dull, except for Rebecca’s very pink backpack and Mark’s very yellow rain slicker.

On the other side of the street, in the old lot where the old drug store used to be, there sat a very white sneaker. Shoelaces untied, and sitting upright collecting rain. Rebecca noticed it briefly before her friends started talking about lip gloss. Mark didn’t notice it at all because he doesn’t like talking to too many people. Charlie noticed it right away, and he knew exactly what it meant.

It means the Fog Giants have returned. There was going to be plenty of long nights ahead.

~***~

See, things like this are a bone for me to chew on. It’s things like this that make me remember why I should carry a notebook everywhere I go. It’s things like this that yank my attention away from whatever I’m working on at the moment. So please, for the sake of progress, don’t allow me to occupy my mind with such things. It’s bad enough that I’m reminded about that part of my WIP where a flock of blackbirds sitting on a telephone wire.

It also doesn’t help that I have tied that project to the other thing that we are leaving the house for. Let me get back to that.

Recently, I have posted about my son, and how he wants to talk at length about anything, but he hasn’t developed the skill to form words yet. I have always been of the opinion that he will come around to it, but still, there were other characteristics that were telling us that he might need a little help.

The problem was recognizing that he had a problem to begin with. He’s still two, and he’s still trying to get used to things like eating a proper meal, or sleeping in his own bed, or learning words, or not being so focused on certain things. It was hard to tell if he was being difficult, or if there was something more sinister afoot.

To put our minds at ease, we tested him for hearing and vision, and determined that the best course of action would be to see a speech therapist. After a few months of regular sessions, we have made small breakthroughs and tiny miracles. But, for all the progress we have made in regards to getting him to say the simplest words, it didn’t solve the mystery as to why he still flaps his arms when he gets really excited, or why he prefers to walk on his toes.

To REALLY put our minds at ease, we went back to his pediatrician to finally ask the question we’ve been putting off for too long. Is our son autistic? It only took a few minutes of an unofficial yet very effective method of determining he wasn’t to give us some relief. But with that burden taken away from us, and most importantly, from him, we were still in the dark as to what seems to be affecting him.

It took a less than fruitful session with his speech therapist to have her bring our attention to something called Sensory Processing Disorder. It’s a very real condition that affects mostly children. It often mimics autism, but it isn’t autism. It is a very real condition, and the cruelest aspect of this condition is, it’s not recognized officially as a real condition.

To put it simply, SPD is where the person has a difficult time responding or reacting to whatever stimuli they’re exposed to. Think of trying to process something as simple as walking along a beach. Everything you experience, the feel of the sand between your toes, the smell of the salt air, the sound of surf, all collide at the same time like traffic weaving through a poorly attended intersection at rush hour. Everything is snarled and not going anywhere too soon. Reaction times in the individual with this disorder are slowed, or often times, not present at all. Or in the case of my son, happening all at once to trigger this extremely excitable reaction where he flaps his arms, open his mouth wide like a lead singer of a metal band, and have a vein or two swell up in his neck.

It is a very real condition. Unfortunately, no one in the healthcare community can come to a consensus on how to define it. Look, is it on spectrum, or is it another version of OCD? Figure it out and get back to us.

It is quite cruel.

Fortunately, my son isn’t at that level. He’s quite happy, and he’ll respond to things and look you in the eye and talk to you…the best he can. But he’ll still do it on his own terms.

Because SPD isn’t uniform and has a broad definition, and has the traits of something else without being that something else, and it does different things to different people, there has been no formal diagnosis of this condition. That means doctors can’t officially prescribe anything, let alone talk about it. The only thing they can do is suggest Occupational Therapy.

Which is where we were going to this morning, my son and I. This is where we’ve gone for the past few months.20170114_104609

His speech therapy is touch and go. He’ll either be in the mood to say something or nah. Occupational Therapy, on the other hand, is so… much… COOLER! There’s a ball pit! And big bouncy balls! And a tunnel and more toys! It’s a process of learning through playing…or what we used to call it in my day…playing. Occupational therapy is a welcome supplement to his boring ol’ speech therapy. And I think the biggest takeaway from attending these sessions, is my child has to take the lead as to what he wants to do. It’s up to the adults to go along and work with it. So, it’s a learning process for me too.

So, I suppose I could be one of these concerned parents and talk at length about getting your child screened and look for the warning signs and blahblahblah. “I need you to feel empathy for my baby because reasons!” But, I don’t feel like it, and I’m sure he wouldn’t appreciate it either. He’s not sick. He’s normal, he just needs a little boost. And while I could be the loudest crusader to get this condition the recognition it deserves, I really don’t think that’s necessary. It is what it is. It’ll probably stick with him for the rest of his life, but we caught it early enough so he’ll know how to deal with it when he gets older, and that’s all we can do right now. Still though, it would be nice to see him walk normally, talk normally. I love my boy, and I’m happy with my boy. I am proud of every one of his accomplishments every day.

I could complain, but I’d rather deal with it in my own way.

He has several quirks. That’s all they are. Just quirks. Things he does. Most of them are indicative of the condition he has, the rest are all his. And instead of Googling what they all are and fret until I mis-diagnose the hell out of it, I have decided to make him the hero of his own story.

Because, I’m a Storyteller. It’s what we do.

He chuckles in his sleep. It’s the most adorable thing in the world. He also likes to look up at the sky while he’s walking. It’s his preferred activity over anything else to do outside. Recently, I was stringing Christmas lights around the house. I switched them on, and as he was passing by with eyes cast skyward he said, “Bye!” It wasn’t directed to anyone. It was directed to the lights. At first, rationality took over. “Well,” I thought to myself. “Maybe it has something to do with the red bulbs, and somehow relating them to watching taillights move down the driveway every morning as his mom goes to work.” Red light means someone’s leaving, which means “Byyyye! See you laytor!

So, instead of freaking out, I just think of the lonely flip-flop…

Untitled Story Idea…

A family moves to a haunted house, and it’s a house that hasn’t been lived in for a very long time. The ghosts that reside there, mainly an old married couple, have been there for a very long time, and haven’t found a way to leave. The only person in the family that knows it’s haunted is the toddler, and he isn’t saying much. The ghosts aren’t very good at scaring people out of the house, because no one has lived there for such a long time, and they couldn’t find it within them to scare them because they were grandparents at one time. So, they spend most of their time looking after the children to make sure they don’t get into trouble. Somewhere along the line, the ghosts figure out that if they can get the baby to laugh, then the hold that this house has on them begins to loosen. Good deeds remembered, they are allowed to pass on once Christmas lights are hung and illuminated.

~***~

Another one of his quirks, and this is something his mother and I need to focus on, is that he has this obsession with doors. The way they open and close, if they latch or not, if they have a lever or knob, do they squeak, how much effort is needed to go through it. We REALLY lose him at the grocery store where the doors open on their own. *GASP! What sorcery is THIS?* He will literally spend the better part of an hour opening and closing doors. It’s something that we learn to live with.

I’m not sure how to break his fascination with them. Once he gets on a door binge, it’s hard to stop, and that’s something that we are slowly learning at Occupational Therapy. It appears that both of my children have their father’s obsessive nature.

There are good days, and there are bad days. But mostly, they’re good. His OT is quite adept at getting him away from his door habit and directing him to playing with blocks and puzzles, and as a result, his obsession has diminished. What hasn’t diminished is my own curiosity. “Why doors?” I ask to myself…in the same tone as “Why one shoe?”

Revision to ‘Kids of St. Anthony’

Story so far:

A social worker who has lost her child to cancer, and as a result, going through a divorce, is now set to task for finding homes for three young siblings. They reside at St. Anthony’s Home for Wayward children; an orphanage. For the most part, all the children that reside there are normal children, but there is a wing of the church that not a lot of people know about. It’s the wing where they put the “special” children.

The oldest of the three (based on my youngest daughter) has a habit of drawing what appears to be circles on paper with crayon. The middle child has hushed conversations with people who aren’t there, and the youngest cannot cope will unless there is an animal present.

To the system, to the nuns that run this place and to the social worker, these children are perceived to have special needs.

It turns out, they’re partially right. The youngest needs to be in close proximity to animals, because they can talk to him, and that’s how he has been in touch with the outside world. The middle child as actually holding conversations with ghosts. They warn her of danger and teach her history. The oldest, who looks as though she draws in anger and frustration with every circle getting deeper as each crayon gets ground down, is actually drawing very intricate talismans that are crafted to protect all of them. All three children team up with the social worker to solve mysteries and stuff. She ends up adopting them…until zombies…the end.

UPDATE:

First of all, enough of the frickin’ zombies.

Second of all, it might be wise to turn this into a series and expand the universe. Because all the cool kids are doing it!

Why not have this orphanage be home to other children with secret abilities? Maybe it’s been a home for children like this for a long time. Like this one child who shows no attention to the world around him, except when it comes to doors. He might come in handy in a pinch.

The bad guys are closing in on our heroes, and the youngest child is feverishly opening and closing a door to a closet; essentially, opening a door to nowhere. At the right time, he opens this door to nowhere, and it turns out that it’s a door to somewhere. They all escape danger because a toddler opened a closet door to reveal a field of wheat somewhere on the other side of the world…next chapter.

Conclusion

This is me blogging because I need a kick in the ass. This post has taken a week in re-writes and has ended up being approximately half the length of my current first draft. It feels like I’m stalling, but I need free up the log jam in my head.

It’s important to let you know that I haven’t gone anywhere.

I would love to write a short story a week, as I’ve pointed out previously. Respectfully, I’m not sure when Mr. Bradbury laid down the gauntlet about doing this, but I’m fairly certain he didn’t have to take care of kids and household at the same time. Right now, I’d be satisfied if I could finish a chapter a week.

This year will be the year I wrangle all of these ideas that land in front of me and turn them into something interesting maybe. I’m hoping that I will be able to find more time to get to them, but the chances of that are quite small. As much as I’d like to lock myself away in a shack in the middle of the woods, my kids need me right now.

And they are most important.

More to come.
Watch this space.

©2017 AA Payson

Was Doctor Strange As “Trippy” As They Claim?

Was Doctor Strange As “Trippy” As They Claim?

The sun took its sweet time sinking into the horizon that summer day. July was coming to an end, but still the days seemed longer. Maybe they seemed that way because of my particular position on the globe at the time; the parabola of the Northeast region made it feel like the Earth was grabbing on to as much sunlight as it could, as if it was storing it up for the long, cold winters. Maybe they seemed that way because I might be looking back on my twenties with a fondness for my more rebellious and carefree days. The poetry in the long goodbye note of a late summer sunset is written in the color of black raspberry ice cream and pink lemonade. It’s close to dusk, and my toes grab wet sand as a guy we just met walks out into the waist deep surf to take a piss while holding on to a case of cheap beer. There was something surreal, beautiful and strangely silly about this scene, and we all pick up on it right away. My friends and I look at each other and grin like mad. Maybe they seemed that way because we knew that this moment would never come our way ever again.

Maybe they seemed that way because we realized that the blotter acid we just bought in the parking lot outside of a Jerry Garcia concert was the real deal as it dug its claws into our cerebellum. We knew we’d be up for a while.

The last rays of sunshine flickered into nothing. I meander back to the parking lot. I have lost track of my friends a while ago. I knew it was going to be an interesting night as I looked up to see the stars dance and warp as Rob Wasserman plucked the melody to The Rolling Stones “Satisfaction” on one of his many upright bass solos. The details of the rest of the night were murky. There was no sleep involved that night, however I do remember taking a much needed shower in the morning. Afterwards, I dried off, collapsed on the couch, and did my best to relax. But it was difficult because the cat kept trying to force her head into my mouth.

What I’m trying to say is, in terms of a Jimi Hendrix litmus test, I am experienced.

I have seen horizons and landscapes that shouldn’t exist. I’ve felt immeasurable joy, paralyzing fear, and pants-shitting danger. I have been places. They’re nice to visit, but you wouldn’t want to raise a family there (stay in school, kids!). I lived and breathed “trippy” for a brief moment in time.  I know what “trippy” means.

It is nothing like what they’re trying to sell you with the new Doctor Strange movie.

Now, before you think I’m hating, let me explain…

Comic books, historically, have never been taken seriously. I know, try telling that to a serious collector, and he might throw his bowl of Kraft Dinner at me. But from Golden Age to the Silver (translated: from the early 1930s to the late 1960s) pulp comics in general, Marvel in particular, have always fought tooth and nail to keep and expand its fan base. Which, in and of itself, is challenging. If it wasn’t the period where pulp comics were considered the folly, and ultimately the downfall of America’s children, then it was the Comics Code Authority making life miserable for everyone. If it wasn’t them, then it was the long process of trying to get back the disaffected youth that they were trying to get to read to begin with. If it wasn’t that, then it was trying to stay ahead of the curve and avoid being out of touch, to be reminded that you need to constantly evolve. If it wasn’t that, then it would be the endless one-upmanship with their closest competitor.

DC had been the standard bearer for what the modern heroes would be; square-jawed, two dimensional dudes in flashy costumes, swooping in to thwart a burglary in progress while simultaneously saving the equally two dimensional, anatomically impossible female from danger, and trying not to look gay while doing it.

meanwhile

Steve Ditko, Jack Kirby, and Stan Lee where busy wrangling their own creative bullpen over at Marvel. Most of the time it was hit and miss.

By the early 60s, the perfect storm of censorship and uninspired story lines nearly brought an end to the brand.

That all changed when Stan introduced”The Fantastic Four”.

On the surface, just another superhero comic. But dig a little deeper, you found four individuals with different abilities who argue and spat just like an actual family would. Just like people who knew each other would. Just like people.

Flawed characters were the thing that would save Marvel during the dark times of the early 70s. But at this time, they were still fighting to keep their head above water. One of the many offshoots of Marvel was an anthology series that went by the moniker, Strange Tales. The pages were mostly about monsters and ghouls and gore and blood and guts and zombies and vampires. It was presented as an alternative to superhero drama, but it wasn’t completely devoid of familiar characters. Cloak and Dagger first appeared there. The previously mentioned Fantastic Four found their origins there. Nick Fury and his agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. were first kicking Hydra’s ass in a few issues. And, a mystical character who was inspired by a radio era serial rounded out the entourage.

That character was called Doctor Strange.

Without giving too much away that you probably already know, Stephen Strange is a brain surgeon who travels to the Far East to be healed after his hands had become damaged in a car accident.  You know the rest.

The movie is a total blast to watch. But that’s not what concerns me. What concerns me is the advertising campaign billing this film as “psychedelic” or “trippy”.

There is a sequence in the film that may constitute a decent head trip, but that’s not the point. The point is that this character was made before the Psychedelic Era, although it has been noted that it might have had a hand at predicting it. Steve Ditko’s motivation when drawing for the Sorcerer Supreme wasn’t to recall the night when he baked magic mushrooms on his pizza. It was more about how would somebody draw something mystical; an idea that hasn’t been explored very much. Especially in comics. If someone came up to you and said, “Draw black magic”, how would you do that? Steve employed purples and reds, darker colors and free form shapes. He employed the use of Abstract Art, something else that hasn’t been tried before in comics. To bill this film as “trippy” does a great disservice to the essence of what was originally achieved.

Shorter: The film is nowhere near as hallucinogenic is one might think. It is abstract. Or more to the point, it is abstract as much as a mainstream movie could be. It is a family friendly Disney property, after all. Trippy is “2001: A Space Odyssey” or “Jacob’s Ladder” or “The Science of Sleep”. Any of these films do a much better job at portraying an interpretation of hallucinating. The effects of the movie seem to lean more towards playing with geometric shapes than anything else; brick patterns, mosaic tiles, window panes. Anything that has a unifying structure is manipulated in such a way that no longer follows an actual design. If it were trippy, the bricks would come alive and shape-shift into something else before changing back into its original form. This is was just fun with shapes. To be honest, it was fun, really fun to look at, but it’s hardly mind-bending.

Other than that, the only real complaint I have about this movie is that it moves almost too fast. I suppose that might be a good thing. Calling attention to every single dollar that you throw into a scene is considered gauche, and the MCU have been quite adept at not doing that. But still, enjoying a moment for a second or two longer wouldn’t damage the narrative. I took a YouTube refresher course on the backstory of the good doctor. It turns out that it wasn’t completely necessary, although it wouldn’t kill ya to do your research.

Personal gripes aside, the movie is a blast. It is so much fun packed into an hour and fifty-five minutes (it could have run longer, and it would have been fine). This movie is a perfect example of a comic book adaptation done right. It is a perfectly stitched together collage of right choices. The writing was snappy and alive. The casting choices were perfect (let’s leave the whole “whitewashing” controversy alone for another time, shall we?) And the soundtrack. The effing SOUNDTRACK! A perfect homage to the time from whence this came from; a full orchestra combined with harpsichord, sitar and a fuzzy guitar shoved through a Tube Screamer (go ask a guitarist) was just delicious to listen to. Still, the theme, if there was one, was as forgettable as the other Marvel franchises. It’s been a complaint amongst music and movie nerds. But at least this time, they put a little more effort into it.

Go.
Go see this movie.
Go see this movie with an open mind, and if you can afford it and have the ways and means, see this in an IMAX theater.

Bottom line, Doctor Strange is not “trippy”

…It’s…strange…in a good way.

The Bus Stop Outside Frank & Sons

“Hey Joey, guess what?” It was the question he’d always start with.

“What, Tommy?” I said giving in to the inevitable cycle of our conversation.
“Chicken butt.” The chortling would literally not stop for minutes. And I will admit, it was infectious.

We just walked passed the lawn and garden store. It wouldn’t be long now. Tommy and I would cut through vacant parking lots on our way to the school bus stop every morning, it seemed, until we went to separate high schools many years later. We lived on the outer edge of a suburban labyrinth that would stretch out for acres. From where we lived, it was a mile (or so) walk from the edge of the community, through vacant strip mall parking lots, to where our bus stop waited; at the edge of an aging industrial park.

When we were young we had to hoof-it, as our parents would say. They had to walk everywhere they went when they were kids, so why should we be bestowed the privilege of a ride to someplace that is practically in our back yard. It’s not like we argued. A few years later, and we could ride our bikes to school. A few years later, and we could drive ourselves. We walked. It’s what we did. Of course, these were the days when it was safe for children to walk to school unattended. We walked. It’s what we did.

Our feet just hit the sidewalk outside of the local Burger King. Closer now. Tommy was a bit of a nervous talker. Without fail, from the moment we left our neighborhood it was non-stop about what was on TV last night, pieces of wisdom his father imparted on him, what he had for dinner last night, what he had for breakfast this morning, all spun together in a dizzying stream of logic, that is seemingly delivered without pause for breath. “…and my mom said if I ate my vegetables, I could stay up and watch Knight Rider. Which I think is pretty cool because I think that the Trans Am is the best car that was ever made, at least that what my dad says because he works on cars…” and on and on. Tommy didn’t have very many friends. That responsibility fell to me. Tommy was helplessly overweight, socially awkward, smelled vaguely of rotten milk, waddled when he walked, and yes the volume of his voice increased whenever he got excited so much so that it practically squeaked. As for myself, I was a latchkey kid, a conciliatory prize in a messy divorce that was packed up with the rest of my mother’s belongings, and forced to start all over again in another town which essentially makes me the new kid in town, which means nobody talks to you, which means for good or ill, Tommy and I were close compatriots. We needed each other.

“…yeah and so I totally used that as the answer in my test last week…” Tommy was a bit of a nervous talker. He would fill every empty space with white noise as best he could. I suppose it’s because I was the only one in his as-of-this-point short life who would give him free reign to do so. I let him go and do his thing, occasionally throwing in a “yeah?” or a, “nuh-uh.” just to let him know that I’m still here. I let him do his thing because right about now, mere feet away from our bus stop, at the edge of an aging industrial park, is where he would start to fade and sputter like a light bulb. It wouldn’t be noticeable at first, then the stammering, then the half-hearted grunts, then nothing. Silence. Unnerving silence.

Courtesy of Nicholas Eckhart

I would suspect that at one time in history, the average industrial park was like the shopping mall was during the 80s; powerful monoliths of industry, until time takes over and man invents new methods of efficiency. The malls have more going out of business signs than actual storefronts. While the same fate isn’t completely parallel to that of the shopping mall, time effects the industrial park the same way. Warehouses, auto repair garages, salvage yards, all seem to be eventually bested by Mother Earth by taking back what’s hers; vines and overgrowth devour that which is left behind and unattended. Across the street from us are rows of industrial warehouses. Beside us, a kitchen appliance wholesaler who has gone out of business years ago, but his faded, lighted sign with missing letters still stood, and window display of kitchen sinks and mock-up refrigerators can still be seen through the encroaching mold from the corners of the glass. Behind us, well…behind us was something you don’t see everyday, and it spooked poor Tommy down to his soul. Behind us was a manufacturer, handcrafter, and purveyor of custom headstones.

A short, tire-worn dirt path connected the road to the front entrance which was this gaping maw cut into the side of a building; it was presumably there for pick up and delivery. The sign above it, beaten from years of neglect and in bad need of a fresh coat of paint bore the name “Frank & Sons”. In front of the not-too-welcoming facade, lay a display of their handiwork; rows of blank headstones, each with a cherub, or a cross, or a pair of baby shoes carved into its face ready to go, ready to mark eternity. It resembled a small graveyard, or a front lawn Halloween display made by someone who REALLY gets into it. Slightly macabre, but nothing out of the ordinary. It probably wouldn’t have been so bad were it not for a pack of older kids putting the fear into Tommy’s head that this place is where zombies come from. Typical cruelty from typical privileged bullies in training. The poor kid has an irrational fear of monsters to begin with, but for someone to give that fear an actual address to live in is just disheartening. It’s been two years now, and he still hasn’t gotten over it. He still stands rigid with his back turned from it, right hand clutching the bus stop sign, eyes clenched. It would be a few more minutes before the bus comes; an eternity to someone gripped in fear.

I still have a fear of big dogs, drowning, spiders that are bigger than my fist, big empty houses that have big, spooky basements, and for some strange reason, chickens. Don’t judge, they just freak me out. Outside of these things, there wasn’t much that scared me…well…not much that surprised me. Not anymore. When you’re a kid and your parents do nothing but argue, which in turn leads to having mom and dad sleeping in separate rooms, which in turn leads to mom and dad sleeping in separate houses, which in turn leads to repeated visits from a strange looking man that mom called a lawyer, which in turn leads to one day, you’re down to one parent and very little explanation as to why. Since then, The Boogey Man and all his crazy cousins including The Monster Under the Bed, The Ghost in Your Closet, The Easter Bunny, The Tooth Fairy, Santa Claus, a Heaven where your pets go, all tend get smaller in stature with every day until one day the monster you fear most isn’t purple or has fangs, he wears a three piece suit and carries a briefcase and calls you, “buddy”.

I never gave the warehouse a second thought. To me, it looked more sad than scary. I’ve stared at it many times, mostly because Tommy checks out for the rest of the morning, and I’ve never seen so much as Frankenstein’s Monster or the Mummy come rambling from the headstones. In fact, I can’t recall if I’ve ever seen any life in the place ever. Which is why it doesn’t surprise me to see mostly darkness from the gaping hole every morning. What does surprise me is that on rare occasions such as this morning, I do see a pair of eyes staring back at me. They are the type of eyes that reflect light like a cat or an owl and I reason them as such. But today, today the pair of eyes seemed to follow me. As if they were on to me. And they didn’t fly away on massive wings or scurry away on furry feet when our gazes met, they instead shuffled. Slowly. Sideways. These eyes were attached to something human, something slow, and something a little creepy. Creepy enough to make me take a step back to Tommy, and make me put my hand on his shoulder. For a brief moment, I considered that it might be a zombie, and for an even briefer moment, I considered telling Tommy. But reason had my ear today. That wasn’t a zombie, that was just some guy sweeping the floor. If I told Tommy, it would put him in therapy for the rest of his life. I had to say something, he was noticing the expression on my face and he was beginning to breathe funny.
“Hey, Tommy?”
“Yeah, Joey?”
“Guess what?”
“What?”
“Chicken Butt.” There was much needed laughter as the bus opened it’s doors.

 ~***~

Author’s Note: Admittedly, this took me a little longer than I should have. However, this is the first sort of fiction where I didn’t have a framework to start out with, say for instance like a flash-fiction contest. All I had to go by was the glorious and unfiltered vision of my daughter and I was off and running. For most of the week, I was riffing while at the same time, drawing a blank on a title, which took me an hour to come up with. 

Many years ago, I had a job that was located in an industrial park. A co-worker employed the services of one of the businesses in our little warehouse cluster. The business was a family run moving company and it’s name is (wait for it) Frank & Sons Moving Co. Now, my ears are a little lazy and start acting a little screwy whenever someone speaks too quickly. Someone asked our freshly moved in co-worker who she used as a moving company to which she responded, “Oh, I used Frankenstein’s. They’re a few buildings down?” I couldn’t help but ask, “Frankenstien’s?”
“No sweetie, Frank and Son’s.”

badda-nah-nuh-nah-nuh…NEEP! [cheese shrug]

Anyway, I swore to myself that I would use the play on words one day. It just took me forever to remember that. I would also like to point out that I have never worked for the company, nor do I know any employees or affiliates. This is a work of fiction and bares no reflection on said establishment. So. There. Please enjoy and as always, I welcome any and all feedback. Thank you.

Photo Credits:

Walking to School (sorry, couldn’t find the right one that had two kids in it.)
Stone Angel

Wishing You All a Wonderful Valentine’s Day, Before the Medication Kicks In.

via Longmire

I’m sick.

For the past couple of days, I’ve been laid up in bed, drooling and sweating out whatever demons possessed me a couple of nights ago, losing my taste for food and drink, incapable of willing my rickety old tree of a body to function as anything else but something that pees a lot and generally being useless.

I hate this.

I hate this because even though the room spins and a debilitating chill that no one else feels but me cuts me down halfway to my computer, even though I somehow manage to prop up my head without inducing the urge to vomit, even though I catch up on all the lovely postings that other people (other non-sick people) post, there is still that one charming motivational blogger that loves to share his wisdom:

…Ya big SISSY!

And oh, how the voices in my head taunt me, “Awww, what? Hemingway, Huxley and Voltaire managed to squeeze something out on their death bed! You get the sniffles and everything shuts down? GET ON YOUR FEET!” Chicken soup, a steady diet of Coricidin and water and a hot shower later…and I’ve managed to whittle it down to a the type of headache normally reserved for drinking heavily the night before.
I’m sick.
Semi-conscious in bed with NPR in the background. The story this hour is the business of Romance Novels and how it became a multimillion dollar industry. Ideas creep slowly into my sickly, little mind. Ideas that are quickly distorted when I check my declining number of hits and the realization that I haven’t written anything in days. (Incidentally, as of this post I will have posted more in three months than all of 2009 when I first started. Nothing big. Nothing to brag about. Just wanted to take a moment and enjoy the view from this summit before I move on to the next one.) Ideas that finally prompt me out of bed and in front of a keyboard muttering to myself, “Multimillion dollar industry, huh? An industry that’s built itself on formulaic trash? Hmmm….maybe I should grab some of that action!” So, without further ado…adoo? Aduu? Adieu? Goodbye? Without further delay and a strong desire to see my spellchecker freak the hell out, here’s my crack at my new, hot romance novella. I have to write this quick before the medication kicks in.

I’m just a small town girl trying to make it in the big city. I somehow managed to land a lucrative position at a high end publishing firm with my hayseed education but things are going well. I just wish I can meet that Mr. Right, you know the one? The one that I’ve built up all my unreal expectations around because that’s what the people at Mattel and Disney told me that’s what I should hold out for. I mean, I don’t bend my feminist ideals for any bungling , well meaning oaf. I need a warrior with rock hard abs, a chiseled chin, not much going on upstairs, but a whole lot going on downstairs. Someone who is sexy, and sensitive, and dresses well…and who isn’t gay.

My boss, Mr. Rapey Von Bodiceripper, says I have what it takes to make it in the world of publishing. That was before he turned me into a vampire and we set out on our sex-filled romp around the world to exterminate zombies. Life in the big city sure is complicated sometimes. But, that’s okay because this book will sell millions of copies and spawn a movie franchise that will last for years…

…it’s a work in progress…

…I’m still sick…